Panasonic HDC-SD20-K digital camcorder

Ultra-compact HD camcorder with optical image stabilisation

Panasonic HDC-SD20-K
  • Panasonic HDC-SD20-K
  • Panasonic HDC-SD20-K
  • Panasonic HDC-SD20-K
  • Expert Rating

    3.75 / 5


  • Portable design, user-friendly interface, effective optical image stablisation


  • Outdated specifications, cheap aesthetics, image quality could be better

Bottom Line

The Panasonic HDC-SD20-K is a reasonable high-definition camcorder that manages to impress thanks to its low price tag. It distinguishes itself from the SD crowd thanks to the inclusion of O.I.S and lots of user-friendly features.

Would you buy this?

The Panasonic HDC-SD20-K is an affordable high-definition camcorder that records AVCHD video to SD/SDHC memory cards. Like previous models in Panasonic’s consumer-level camcorder range, its primary strength is its portability, along with a user-friendly interface. This makes the Panasonic HDC-SD20-K an ideal option for beginners and casual camcorder users, who will doubtlessly appreciate the hint-laden Ai menu and streamlined controls.

On the other hand, serious videographers will be left unenthused by its average video performance and lack of external audio. Thankfully, the above concessions have made the SD20-K cheaper than the majority of its rivals, which typically cost upwards of $2000. Its shortcomings are subsequently a bit easier to overlook.

The HDC-SD20-K marks the fifth-generation of Panasonic AVCHD flash memory camcorders. The company’s previous model — the HDC-SD100 — crept onto the market with such little fanfare that if you blinked you probably missed it. (Most people will be more familiar with the Panasonic HDC-SD9, which appeared early last year.) Curiously, all three models are currently available on Panasonic’s Web site, which means you have three generations of camcorders to choose from.

The Panasonic HDC-SD20-K can be viewed as a stripped down version of the HD-SD100. Some of the HD-SD100’s features that unfortunately got the chop include its 3.5mm microphone jack, manual lens ring, viewfinder and fancy ‘3MOS’ chipset (instead, the HDC-SD20-K reverts to an inferior 1/6in CMOS arrangement). The good news is the HDC-SD20-K is almost half the price of the SD100, making it a more attractive option for budget-conscious shoppers. What’s more, it also offers a few interesting improvements.

One of the biggest changes Panasonic has made to the SD20-K has to do with its new interface. In a move that many will welcome, Panasonic has ditched its mini-directional stick in favour of an LCD touch screen (a control scheme cribbed from Sony’s popular handycam range). Once we got used to the eccentric menu layout, making selections with the touch screen was a breeze. There’s a fair array of modes and features to play around with too, including adjustable white balance, shutter speed and exposure, manual touch-focus, a Soft Skin mode, AF/AE Tracking, Face Detection, red-eye reduction (for still images) and nine Scene selections.

Once again, Panasonic has included Ai Shooting Guide on this camcorder for novice users. As its name implies, this feature offers shooting hints and tips via prompts on the LCD. For example, if you’re panning the camera too quickly, a message will pop up onscreen and alert you. This takes the coveted ‘Easy’ mode to a whole new level and should ensure even the most inexperienced user never feels out of their depth when handling the camera. (Naturally, the mode can also be switched off).

When it came to image quality, the Panasonic HDC-SD20-K performed about as well as can be expected. Equipped with a lowly 1/6in sensor with an effective pixel count of just 1170k, it cannot hope to match the imaging performance of heavy-hitters like the Canon HF11 or Sony HDR-CX100. Its performance in low lighting was especially weak, although it will still produce acceptable results for private home movies (i.e. — just don't expect to send your footage off to film festivals or wow videophile buddies).

The Panasonic HDC-SD20-K offers a maximum data rate of 17 Mbps (Megabits per second), which is significantly slower than the 24Mbps offered by some of its pricier competitors. On the plus side, the 16x Leica Dicomar optical zoom lens lets the user get nice and close to the action, while the advanced optical image stabliser keeps things relatively shake-free. Indeed, the inclusion of optical image stabilisation is what sets this digital video camera ahead of other entry-level models. This helps to smooth out video without compromising the quality; even at higher zooms.

Panasonic has always prided itself on producing ultra-compact camcorders and the HDC-SD20-K is no exception. With dimensions of 64x67x124mm and weighing 270g, it’s a pleasantly bite-sized model that can be comfortably slipped into a purse or jacket pocket. That being said, it’s not the most attractive camcorder on the market. Despite the glossy silver finish, the body looks a bit cheap and plastic, with an unsatisfying ‘hollow’ feel. Its appearance also suffers from a protruding battery at the rear; a design that we’ve never been fond of. On the plus side, the HDMI and USB ports are now located on the side of the camera, rather than behind the battery, as with the HDC-SD100.

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